When human senior citizens get on in years and need help taking care of themselves, there are options — in-home caretaking, assisted living, nursing homes, etc.
But when canine senior citizens come to their last days, options are much more limited. But tucked behind a side road in the Town of Kingston is a place, Paws Unlimited, where dogs can go to be happy, loved and comfortable for however many days they have left.
Paws Unlimited’s 4,000-square-foot facility was designed and built specifically to house up to 24 dogs, including senior dog housing. It sports pristine cages; 18 dog runs — which include runs for boarded dogs to offset costs — line the spacious green landscaped grounds.
Shari Bach, who founded the organization, pointed out to a reporter on a visit last week a gaping 20 foot-deep pit surrounded by pine chips. She smiled and cautioned, “Mind the shit pit.” Nine such pits circle the property into which piles of dung are flung, then covered in odor-masking pine chips rather than bagging and tossing it into the garbage stream. The building is geothermal, solar and has radiant floor heat.
It’s no mystery to the dogs that someone has arrived, and each visitor is heartily announced. A velvety piano concerto by Rachmaninoff fills the air; it’s soothing to the dogs, said Bach, “But they’re not fond of opera.” (Bach herself says she’s a descendant composer Johann Sebastian Bach and grew up with music in her life.)
A Vermont native and executive assistant in Manhattan, Bach started Paws Unlimited eight years ago. She has several volunteers and a part-time employee. Bach explained that she’s different as she’s also been doing dog rescue for 15 years — people either have a shelter, or, do rescue, but not both, she said. Paws Unlimited is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) group which in its first few years sheltered dogs she was able to spare from kill shelters. Bach did not have access to the dogs’ histories or backgrounds, she said, and the majority of the dogs she got were either pregnant or were positive for fatal heartworm.
Soon enough, Bach found herself with way too many puppies — 37 at one time — and said she won’t make that mistake again.
Bach encourages folks to foster her dogs instead and it’s a pretty good deal: Bach holds herself responsible for medical care and costs, microchipping, spaying and neutering, providing monthly preventative heartworm medicine, flea and tick treatment and even the food. “Because people feed their dogs crap,” said Bach. She has nine dogs placed in foster care families, each of whom she speaks with every week. Bach goes to every vet appointment as well. “People say I’m controlling, but when you have dogs you’ve invested time and money into, that’s what you do,” said Bach.
Dr. Dave Gunzburg at Hurley Veterinary Hospital is a fan. “[Bach] is one who puts her life into what she does,” said Gunzburg. “I have never met someone so committed to what she does, and puts her life and soul into the animals she takes care of.” Gunzburg said Bach’s animals are often not in good shape, and that Bach gets frustrated that she cannot do more. “She does not just let them go and say goodbye, she has a vested interest in the rest of their lives … she seems to truly understand what’s in the best interest of the animal.”
Bach’s preferred breed is Rottweilers, but she will take pit bulls as well. “In many instances the owners have them for the wrong reasons,” said Bach. “Rotties are often used as guard dogs — they look like big, macho muscle dogs, and so people want that.”
Bach’s other preference for rescue are senior dogs. “People think I do hospice,” she said. “I have spent many, many nights in company with a dog about to die. I know when a dog is ready. I take these dogs so they know someone loves them.”
Bach added, sharply, that she does not want people to ask her to take a dog for just wetting the carpet a few times. Paws Unlimited also does not take in a dog that has killed another dog or a cat or injured people; Bach said she’s not a dog trainer. In her eight years of rescue work and caring for more than 400 dogs, Bach said she has only ever needed to put down one dog that she considered dangerous.
Aging in place
Bach said her inbox is jammed with up to 600 emails a day — 70 percent of which are from pounds, kill shelters, desperate owners and animal control officers — seeking help for tens of thousands of dogs throughout the country in need of immediate rescue.
But as it’s much more comfortable and much, much cheaper to care for a human senior citizen at home the same holds true for dogs. Bach said some assistance could mean an endangered dog could stay in its home and she started a foundation to help with medical costs and food. Nothing comes free in this world, however, and Bach’s support is no different. One must agree to adhere to her firm guidelines on the dog’s vet visits and care. She will also help families with placing dogs, and encourages dog owners to reach out to breed-centric rescuers or networks.
The majority of the dogs Bach works with are on special diets; 70 to 80 percent of them are on medications as well. Everything at the facility gets scrubbed every day, and the dogs are mostly good about waiting their turn to go do their doggy bathroom business. Other dogs need wee-wee pads, which get washed daily. Bach is on a first name basis with every area canine specialized medicine vet, such as oncologists, dermatologists, orthopedic surgeons, neurologists and others that some of us with only two paws did not even know exist.
Not everyone treats his or her dog as well as Bach treats hers. Some dogs require patience to contend with trauma from past abuse. Bach once saved a Rottweiler covered in cigarette burns from being put down. She also did a rescue from a hoarder’s house in which the dogs were eating dead rats to stay alive. One Rottie, Bach recounted, was so abused and afraid of his owner that the shelter called to say he was crawling on the floor, peeing himself. The shelter worker said he had never seen a dog so terrified. Five weeks after the dog arrived at Paws Unlimited, Bach said he was offering her his belly. “From that moment on, he knew he was home.” That dog was adopted out to an experienced Rottweiler owner.
No dog is disposable
Merle Borenstein, owner of Armadillo’s restaurant in Kingston on Abeel Street, is a dog rescue enthusiast and Paws Unlimited main fundraiser. Borenstein said she has a “big belief” in helping senior dogs. “[Bach] is unbelievable,” said Borenstein. “The work she does is amazing. There are so many elder dogs who are thrown away toward the end of their lives, it breaks my heart. Paws Unlimited gives them a place to lay their heads until the end of their lives, so they can close their eyes and know that they are loved and cared for.” Borenstein does not believe in disposable dogs.
“They were not put down because they were old. If any animal is suffering, we all know what needs to be done … But just because they have some years on them does not mean you should put down a loving creature.”
Visit pawsunlimited.com for more information, and check out its Gofundme page to donate.